I love living in big cities. And the reason I say this is because I know the options are endless and I never get bored. On the other side, during my holidays, I love discovering remote and tiny places that haven’t seen many eyes. And that’s the reason I chose to visit Inujima island.
While many of you may heard about Naoshima or its bigger neighbour sister Teshima, not many heard or planned a visit to the smaller sister Inujima. If I’m right, then it’s time to adjust your travel plans and include Inujima on the list for your next travel.
Inujima is located in the Seto Inland Sea, in the south-eastern part of Okayama prefecture, at about 2.5 kilometres far from the main island of Kyushu. It is the only inhabited island in the entire prefecture and because it’s very small, only 0.54 square kilometres, it makes it a perfect day trip from Okayama.
Inside Japan, the island is well known for its production of fine quality granite, called “Inujima mikage”. The island used to be a prosperous place between 1909-1919 when Inujima copper refinery was in operation. That was a prosperous period when 5000 – 6000 people were living here. It has been the source of stone for the walls of many famous places including the Okayama Castle, Osaka Castle and Edo Castle. However, with the modernization era occurring all over the country, the refinery closed after only 10 years of operation and people left the island. Today, less than 50 people are permanently living on the island, with an average population of about 75 years old.
Today, thanks to “Benesse Art Site Naoshima” which is the collective term to describe the art activities undertaken by Benesse Holdings and Fukutake Foundations, the islands of Naoshima, Teshima and Inujima revived after many years of beauty sleep. The introduction of art under different forms including museums, art houses, stunning architecture or festivals, totally changed the life of the islands and its islanders. From regular islands known only by the local population, the picture looks completely different today. People from all corners of the world come to enjoy the contemporary art works and the unique landscape of the islands. And thanks to this, the local population increased with the new small businesses coming to support the tourism.
Inujima Seirensho Art Museum
There are mainly three objectives to visit in Inujima, a museum, several art houses and a garden. The best way to start your visit is with a stop to the Inujima tourist office, located near the port – it’s the only big building you’ll see, so you can’t miss it. From there, buy a combo ticket for all the three attractions of the island for 2100¥ (valid one full day). And even if they will tell you you need only 3 hours to see all the places, don’t believe them. If you don’t go to check a box, but to truly enjoy the places and take it easy, you really need the full day.
From the outside
Start your visit with Inujima Seirensho Art Museum because is located near the port and the tourist information. This museum is built on the remains of the copper refinery, trying to preserve the traces of the past while bringing it back to life in a less conventional way. The museum combines artwork from Yukinori Yanagi with arhitecture by Hiroshi Sambuichi in a very original and uplifting way. The principle used to revive this refinery was the idea of “using what exists to create what to be”.
From the outside you will notice that things didn’t changed much over time. You can see the walls of the refinery and the traces of the past. That’s because the museum has been built while preserving the original aspect of the island, without affecting the landmark. If you visited Naoshima or Teshima, you know already that this principles were the foundations for the projects.
Inside the museum
Once you step inside the museum, you are transposed into a different world. Everything is dark and your eyes need some time to adapt to the surroundings. You will be welcomed by a wall projecting something that looks like a ball of copper melting. From there, you start walking a path of light through a labyrinth. Thanks to the mirrors, both extremes, the ball of fire and the light are telling a story. Once you start walking, the path takes you closer to the light, while keeping the fire in the background, which starts becoming smaller and smaller. I found this idea speechless and captivating. It was hard for me to move on, as I felt there was so much to be absorbed and understood.
After the corridor, you will arrive in a different space. It looks unreal and from another dimension. The artist brought parts of a house once occupied by Yukio Mishima, a vocal critique of Japan’s modernization and a post-war writer, now hanging in the air. Doors, windows and a stair create a wall-less dimension, where shadows, lights and wind create a real time changing universe. This artwork is meant to sent a strong message, by contrasting the consequences of modernization to the past. It is all gone with the wind.
Then, continue your journey to the last room of the exhibition where are transposed into a red laser room. Then, continue your journey to the last room of the exhibition where you’ll be transposed into a red lasers room. It is beautiful and captivating, so grab it all before exiting the door.
Once you come back to light, you can buy a souvenir, have a coffee or watch a short video about the island. From there, you can continue your journey and see the remaining parts of the refinery, while heading to the other side of the island.
Once you exit the museum green area, you will arrive at the beach. On clear days you can enjoy the scenery of the Inland sea, overlooking the mainland and the nearby islands. On summer days have some fun and enjoy a bath and the sun while hanging on the beach.
To the garden
From the beach, you have to walk about 15 minutes to get to the Inujima garden. You need a pair of good shoes to walk around (not flip flops), as you’ll walk a bit off the road. This is a great opportunity to enjoy the refreshing sounds of nature.
Inujima Life Garden
There is not much to see or say about this place. It has been opened in 2016 with the purpose of reviving a long abandoned green house and its 4.500 square meters of land surrounding it. The scope was to bring locals and visitors closer, while reviving the land and enjoying the self reliance of the surrounding nature.
Inujima Art House Project
Similar to Naoshima and Teshima, you have the opportunity to visit art houses in Inujima too. Initially only three in 2010 (F, S & I galleries) ,but with two more added in 2013 (A & C galleries), you’ll need to take the time to discover the unicity of each of them.
Inujima Dog House Project
This is a private art work one done by the sculptor Ryuzo Kawano. It is a giant dog of 3 meters tall, 2.4 meters wide and 5.1 meters deep, located meters away from Inujima garden. The artwork is composed by porcelain tiles, glassware and antique ceramics, made by the artist and volunteers across the country. What is fascinating is the fact that the tiles are filled with people’s wishes for the future and comparing to other artworks, this is a team work of people across Japan.
Masanori Handa used the art house to bring nature in the attention of visitors. He sculpted different flowers and plants found in Inujima to bring the beauty of nature closer to the eyes of the visitors. He used camphor tree as material for the sculptures to keep the insects away. In the last two pictures above, you’ll be able to see how one of the plants looks in reality – as I found one in front of the building.
This house consists of a garden and a gallery with three mirrors. Once you step inside, you can take a look outside, from a open window, which makes you focus on the beauty of nature, but in a real “painting”. Thanks to the mirrors, you can explore the surroundings and be part of them, emerging into an endless space.
Beatriz Milhalzes created an artwork which unifies with the nature and the surroundings. The acrylic panels are displaying different types of flowers and vegetations of the Inujima island. As there is a chair in the middle, put yourself there and embrace the artwork from its centre.
I love this piece of art. It combines lenses of different sizes to distorts the shape and size of the surroundings. When you look closer you see how everything is connected.
Former Site of a stonecutter’s house
This work by Yasuke Yasai is called “Listen to the voices of yesterday like the voices of ancient times”. It consists of many painting illustrating plants and animals, laying over the the surface and surroundings.
This gallery is also a worship place for the god of stone. The artist Kohei Nawa used a variety of art objects to illustrate plant and animals in his sculptures. In the central room you will find a captivating art piece, done by polystyrene, emphasising the big bang. I found the place very captivating and it was definitely my favourite art house on the island. A place I would totally recommend to not be missed during any visit to Inujima.
Apart from the art houses, pay attention to the details while walking the narrow streets. You will be surprised how many beautiful things you can discover, even if are not on the map. You can find a gazebo built as a rest place or two big cobra.
A must to your visit in Inujima is a stop at a man’s house, located in front of the art-house A. He is actually welcoming visitors to come and see his koi fish!! He likes interacting with visitors, but you need to speak Japanese.
Food & Drinks
I was so busy taking advantage of the full 6 hours on the island (better said, between the first and last ferry to the mainland) that I almost forgot to eat. However, when I did made a stop, I found some locals selling very delicious food. The place is a bit further down from the gazebo resting place and they have sandwiches and many flavours of ice-cream. They do speak English and they are happy to help if you have questions about the island.
When I looked for accommodation in Inujima and Teshima online, I couldn’t find anything. But the locals told me there are actually two places on the island where you can spend the night. The cheaper one costs around 3000¥ per night, but you have to book with a few weeks in advance. About the expensive one I don’t have information, but it may be near the tourist information centre – I remember seeing a sign over there. Another option would be to stay in the camp, but is should be during the summer and you must probably come with your own equipment. If you’re interested, you can call the tourist centre and they can point you in the right direction.
You can visit Inujima coming from two different directions. The fastest and the cheapest one is to take the speed boat from Houden port. The island is only 2.5 kilometres far away and you’ll be there in 10 minutes, for only 400¥. From Okayama city you can reach Houden city by public bus for another 760¥, in about 1 hour.
The second option takes longer and it is far more expensive. You can take the local train from Okayama to Uno port for 590¥. Then you take ferry to Naoshima for another 300¥, and change with a speed boat to Inujima for another 1880¥. It takes about one hour the journey with the train and then 15 minutes to reach Naoshima, another 20 minutes to reach Teshima and another 25 minutes till Inujima.
Whatever choice you take, keep an eye on the watch and ensure you plan your trip accordingly. For example, if you’re coming from Uno port / Naoshima, you have to know that are only 3 ferries per day going to Inujima from Naoshima, at 9:20am, 12:10pm, 2:50pm, which return at 10:25am, 1:10pm 3:47pm. If you’re coming from Houden, the boats are more often, but the last bus going to Okayama is around 5pm.
My advice is to plan this trip in advance to fit everything in a day-trip trip visit, if not is worth in spending a night there and take it easy. Even if the island has only 3.6 kilometres in circumference, there is a lot to see, especially during good weather.
Well, that’s it from my side. I hope you enjoyed the article and one day you’ll visit Inujima island. Meanwhile, get inspired from more articles across Japan and not only, here.
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